Pushing Clay

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When I push the clay onto the board it performs one of a variety of moves: skin, cloud, earth, water. To my eye at any rate, it is clear in what direction the clay wants to be pushed and which referent is driving the future of the piece. These snowy, windy beginnings are on my table right now.

Once the paint has its say, we will see how the clay’s inclinations are subverted or overdrawn.

WARNING: Christmas images that may be upsetting, premature or stress-causing to some viewers. Too bad, so sad.

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A Morbid Little Project

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I think we need an updated Book Of The Dead. The Egyptians got a lot of use out of The Book Of Going Forth By Day but the charms, spells and hymns needed to get the modern dead safely to the other side are now quite different.

For starters, I don’t believe we expect to take very much with us in the way of material goods. In fact, I suspect most of us are buried without the ferry fare. (Canadians you’d better grab some pennies now before they are gone.) The little book I’m working on may be all the psychopomp you’ll need.

Here’s my table with the first 9-page edition in the works. The pages are drying right now after which I will decorate them, as is fitting.

"Any Last Words" a book in progress

“Any Last Words” a book in progress

And, post title aside, I don’t actually think of this project as morbid. Taking care of yourself is a good idea, here and now as well as then and there.

A Spur With No Horse

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Hansel And Gretel Were Here

Hansel And Gretel Were Here (a painting in process)

I’m joining a million other blogs out there on inspiration, I know. However, I am participating in an event at the end of the month during which five artists from different creative fields will talk about inspiration: what’s it made of, where it comes from and what you do with it when you’ve got it. I need a place to get some ideas down.

[ Event info : Culture Cafe, Alton Mill Arts Centre, Alton Ontario, Friday January 30th 7-9PM ]

Here’s my take: Problem + Search for Solution = Inspiration. It’s not “where do you get your ideas?” The correct question is “where do you get your problems?” Or the more difficult “how do you keep believing your problems have solutions while you are fruitlessly hashing away at them?”

If it’s all about problem solving, it’s all about having problems. Wait, there’s more. It’s about having problems in the presence of the belief that you have solutions. So inspiration requires belief lest it be just a spur with no horse. You must have hope and you need to be optimistic in order to take your inspiration on its journey. But artists are often bleak, moody – even suicidal. Do the dark-natured fit into this definition?

My nose is chapped, my lips are dry, my hands are covered with little scrapes and cuts. This frigid, dry weather is a problem and I’ve just decided that problems are at the root of creation. So bad weather is inspiring?

I have no solution for bad weather. I just keep applying the spur until a horse magically appears under me. The weather doesn’t improve, but sometimes I get a painting anyway. This underpainting for Hansel And Gretel’s forest is very chilly, a direct result of riding the horse I conjured.

Chapbooks: Little Life Lessons

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I learned a few things creating these little stone tablets. Here they are.

1) When I cannot edit myself, I write in a different voice. I deliberately get rid of some grammar and ornamentation. The clay doesn’t like extraneous decoration.

2) The restrictions imposed by the finite size and by the quick-drying nature of the clay pages adds a lovely sense of urgency to my stream of consciousness prose. I cannot ramble.

3) I forget my audience with ease when I work this way. There are too many personal leashes in play for me to expend mental space on a set of people not currently in the room.

4) I am spiritually uplifted holding physical words in my hand. I like this page size. It fits my palm, filling it with artifacts from my left hemisphere (or maybe they are coming from the right). This tangible joy is regrettably lost when the pages are assembled into a frame. I need to fix that.

Here are the cheat sheets for these two sculptural paintings. Look how similar in size are the two blocks of text. Cool.

Chapbook: Little Life Lessons 1, Mixed Media Framed Book

Chapbook: Little Life Lessons 1, Mixed Media Framed Book, 10″ x 24″

The art on the side is the stuff that gets made when I am not looking: free of intent and expectation. Better? Maybe. More surprising for sure. More satisfying often. And sometimes, more representative. Less tentative but also less vehement, less passionate and that is interesting. Strong conviction requires thought, sure, but passion? Hell, yes! Passion is bland without brains, but is invigorated when released from expectation’s net.

Chapbook: Little Life Lessons 2, Mixed Media Framed Book

Chapbook: Little Life Lessons 2, Mixed Media Framed Book, 10″ x 24″

Little lessons: See Jane run. See her struggle with a few home truths. Not once, but many times. “My life is mine to make, mine to break,” she says, trying to stop checking the wings for someone else to blame. Another thing our Jane knows is how far her ability to lie to herself outstrips her ability to lie to someone else. “It should be the other way around,” she thinks. Today she learns the lesson a bit more. “Next time I will know better,” she says.

Van Gogh’s Green Stars

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VanGoghsGreenStarsRaise your hand if you see Vincent Van Gogh’s green stars when you look up into the night sky. Me, I don’t see them right away. I have to look and look. (Look Jane, look.) It takes patience and stamina– the ability to wait, to work, to keep faith. I am asking my eyes for much and they burn with effort.

The rewards are hard-earned and far-reaching. Vision is a muscular sense. Working out neural pathways, especially the ones that yield green stars, is an honest-to-God worthwhile endeavour.

No day is complete without an attempt at some sort of worthy action: praiseworthy, blameworthy, anything provoking a new thought or way of using your eyes. Look deeper, look longer. Put your back into it. Wait… and give the universe time to respond and recognize you as a seeker.

Then will come the hidden colour of the stars. Then you will see Emily Carr’s dancing trees, too, and all the rest that is just this side of vision.

New Paintings

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Paintings. Sculptures. I’m not sure how to classify these works. The substrate is a paper-infused, air-drying medium that I can shape into bite-able sheets. I have been moving toward a more text-centred mode of expression for a very long time and a few of my newest pieces are almost solid text.

"Water-made World" Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 16" x 24"

“Water-made World” Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 16″ x 24″

"Multi-plane Dialogue, Gretel" Acrylic and mixed media, unframed, 18" x 12"

“Multi-plane Dialogue, Gretel” Acrylic and mixed media, unframed, 18″ x 12″

"Porcelain Delta" Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 13 1/2" x 18"

“Porcelain Delta” Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 13 1/2″ x 18″

"Vintage Two-Word Dictionary Entries: Coal Scuttle / Iron Lung" Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 13" x 13"

“Vintage Two-Word Dictionary Entries: Coal Scuttle / Iron Lung” Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 13″ x 13″

"Vintage Two-Word Dictionary Entries: Green Horn / Lady's Man" Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 13" x 13"

“Vintage Two-Word Dictionary Entries: Green Horn / Lady’s Man” Acrylic and mixed media on birch panel, 13″ x 13″

This body of work expresses my appreciation for the beauty of letter forms, the cogs of our noble and maltreated communications vehicle. I put language in the foreground and ask viewers to apprehend it as a sinuous, flexible art form.

If I catch myself unawares, I can almost take my own breath away. (What an admission to make in print.)

Pieces Of Eight

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Here's the show card.

Pieces Of Eight Show Card

I’m in a group show at The Dam Gallery in the Alton Mill Arts Centre. The title of the show is Pieces of Eight. There are eight of us (no kidding): Rosemarie Armstrong, John Ashbourne, Iris Casey, Rosemary Hasner, Pete Herlihy, Andrea Trace, Steve Volpe and Freda Wrench. I’ve done some new work for this show that I am quite happy with. The new pieces were done in the two workshops I have attended recently: one with Mary Wood and one with Claudia Jean McCabe.

They represent a new direction for me. I have tried many times, without success to really pare a painting down to essentials. Mirage does that, or at least, is a long-awaited step in the right direction. Big sigh of relief.

The other new work is Festival which is a free-form, palette-knifed composition on raw canvas. Heck, yeah. That was fun. It is sort of festive in appearance, but the real festival was in the making.

It’s adhered with medium to a birch panel but left raw in places. I mean, I did not cover the work with more medium, gloss or matte, so the canvas maintains its quality which I like. Gives the piece immediacy and does not divorce it from its roots. Framing so often formalizes a work beyond where I want it to go.

Headwaters Arts 2011

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On A Swing Above The Inferno, Loose Leaf Number 2

On A Swing Above The Inferno, Loose Leaf Number 2

I have seven paintings up at the current SGI Headwaters show. One of my pieces has been awarded a Jurors’ Choice which is very cool and makes me quite happy. It’s nice to get feedback like that. I will post that picture in the next blog entry.

I hang out with my paintings for most of the exhibition because I like to talk to people and find out what they think. Additionally, I like to stop people from walking away too soon. My work needs a few minutes to sink in. A strolling viewer offering a passing glance doesn’t always allow the piece time to exude its subtle charm. So I make a bit of small talk and let the work lasso a larger share of attention. We are a bit crafty.